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Bloggers, They Only Know What We Show

Last week ended with a bit of a public brouhaha regarding a personal Facebook image post and an incredibly bold – defamatory? – blog post about said photo.  Like flies to sh...like moths to a flame, blog post after blog post began to pop up on both sides of the issue.  I was mulching my yard all weekend so happily hid in the offline world as the storm swirled on in the digital space.  I got the occasional, “Did you see??” text and the periodic, “You have to read this” message on my phone.  I had a couple brief and private conversations on my thoughts (because you know I had to have thoughts), but really enjoyed focusing on removing weeds from my flower beds.  They were those weeds with tiny thorns that pierce right through gardening gloves, so believe me, my hands were already full.

And then I read a post written by Jessica Gottlieb, which has since been removed from her site.  Note: Every time I agree with Jessica, a unicorn dies, so I try really hard to not let that happen.  But the title of the post struck a chord with me:

People Only Know What You Publish or Say

I tell my kids a variation of this every time they grumble through a homework assignment or class project.  I am blessed with two intelligent and incredibly talented children who happen to have also inherited my I-only-want-to-do-this-if-I-want-to-do-it gene. This is the character trait that caused me to only attend college Calculus two out of three days a week and keeps the clean, folded laundry in the basket at the end of the bed.  But as I tell my children, your teachers will only know your ability level based on what you show them, and homework is one way to do that.

Bloggers, like Jessica said to the person in that photo, they only know what we show.

Last month the blogging community raged over a WSJ.com article that took the words of a very intelligent, professional, and kind of amazing blogger out of context and used them to further what I believe was a mom blogger bashing agenda.  This article was just the most recent in a long line of similar posts painting the image of bloggers at conferences as moms unleashed, running through swag suites like frothing animals, drinking themselves into oblivion then staying up all night to have pillow fights in their jammies, thrilled to be away from their controlling husbands and whining children.

The articles are utter nonsense.  But members of our community were the original source of this insane flame that the mainstream media continues to fan.

I have been in these blogger bashing posts myself, including one after a Baltimore conference.  The post referenced mom bloggers drinking mimosas out of children’s sippy cups while sitting in a conference session.  Why did they write such a ridiculous, unprofessional thing?  Because mom bloggers brought mimosas in sippy cups to the conference session like they were storing Zima in sports bottles in their lockers.

They only know what we show.

Two weekends ago I attended a conference where many of us – myself included – continued the ongoing conversation about the need for bloggers providing professional services to be contracted and paid for those services.  Then last week a prominent blogger asked her community to work for weeks for a “chance” to be hired and paid.  Brands watch us to know how to value our work based on how we value our work.  Asking each other to work for free while we’re getting paid?

They only know what we show.

Last year I took on Viacom, a media giant, because they were scraping blogger content without permission as well as using plagiarized content on their site, NickMom.  I wasn’t alone in my disgust and while the blogosphere took up pitchforks and torches and stormed their big brand doors, NickMom continued to excuse the behavior as acceptable in the online community.  Bloggers shouted back, “No, content is our livlihood, words and images are how we create, share, pay our bills.  You can’t use our work without permission AND attribution AND payment! NO! NO! NO!”

And then today I saw a post on Babble – another media giant – written by a member of that very same blogosphere, only there was one issue…

The post was plagiarized.

Thanks to Kelly Ripa reading the post on her daytime show, this piece from last October was suddenly being shared around the web, including on Facebook where the author and her co-writer shared this exchange:

“How did they not say OUR NAMES? We are *this* close to being famous.”
“I almost punched the computer screen. CITE YOUR SOURCES KELLY AND MICHAEL GOOOODDDDDDDDDDDDD.”

 Citing sources?  Et tu, Brute?

The post, which lists and describes 9 things that women say to men, begins with this:

In case you didn’t see that in the screenshot, the words she typed were, “I’ve come up with…”

Only she didn’t. She got them from this video on YouTube.

Baffled, I reached out to my friends on Facebook to see if maybe I had finally lost my mind after speaking and thinking in 140 for five years.  But nope, everyone saw what I saw – plagiarism on one of blogging’s top sites.  The author responded to me and said that the first time she reposted this material without permission on her personal site, she did credit the original source.  She regrets lying in the introduction paragraph on Babble.  Babble, a highly respected site with talented writers, many of whom I call friends, responded on Twitter that they are taking this issue very seriously and looking into it.

Bloggers, they only know what we show.

 

Update 5/3/13 – The post referenced above has been removed, and Babble has issued this statement:

You spoke up, we heard. We sincerely apologize that the post in question failed to live up to our editorial standards, which includes a zero-tolerance policy on plagiarism. Thank you for bringing your concerns to us and for giving us the time to do our due diligence. Our relationship with the community is one we cherish and hold in high regard. We also value our editorial standards, which we take pride in executing consistently across our platforms, while still preserving, protecting and promoting the freedom that makes the medium of blogging so special.  And we always want to be held accountable for this. 

Our bloggers are well aware of our policies, which includes proper citation of sources and inspirations for content. But because bloggers are human, they make mistakes, and we continue to refine our procedures for addressing these quickly without impeding the creative energy of the community’s work. End of the day, we want your experience in our spaces to be good ones.

Thank you for helping us achieve that.

-Andrea Zimmerman, Senior Manager of Blogs & Social Media

 

Comments

  1. 43
    little island studios says:

    Well said! I recently worked on a project for a healthy lifestyle blogger on an Earth Day Pinterest Project. I was moved by her “winner is chosen based on work not popularity” bit. I liked the blogger & the project idea, so I participated and actually did a fabulous job. However, the “winners” chosen had not even bothered to meet the requirements and two hadn’t even bothered with the project at all. That was a lot of free advertising for her and her client. Lesson learned. Moms that are bloggers are super busy and our time is valuable. Our work being “borrowed” or “work for a chance at getting paid” is absolutely not okay. Thanks for supporting us!
    little island studios recently posted..Iron Man 3 – Out In Theaters Friday!

  2. 44

    I am not sure how many times I need to say this but … Umm… Babble says this:

    “This morning, it came to our attention that the Babble blogger cited here did not properly credit her inspiration for her post. This news was, obviously, surprising to us and we moved quickly to address to it. The blogger has added a credit to the source and our editorial team has added a disclosure that reflects that the post has been edited from its original version.”

    CREDIT IS NOT PERMISSION.

    Or, if this is how we are rolling on the internet, perhaps I should just start publishing Babble posts? I mean, I will be sure to end each one with an “Inspired by Babble” attribution at the bottom.

    Also, this wasn’t “inspired.” This was copied word for word. That is plagiarism, not inspiration. This isn’t even a fine line where she paraphrased or rewrote the original content. She used the original content word for word, and added a little of her own words, too.

    If all we need to do is credit, my next step will be to publish some bestsellers on Amazon Kindle. I will be sure to give proper credit. I doubt Stephen King will mind.
    Kelby Carr recently posted..lilili00 became a registered member

  3. 45

    What Babble has done is absolutely not sufficient. I am not one bit surprised and it happens a heck of a lot more than Andrea is letting on. And the “fix” she claims in her email isn’t even what happened. One small like at the very end of the piece linking back to the original is not fixing the problem. She might have gotten away with fair use if she had quoted the parts which she took verbatim. She however did not do that and as the blog post stands Babble is still opening themselves up to a copyright lawsuit. And the whole we’re far too busy and have too much content to possibly look over is weak. You can’t say yeah we broke the law, but it’s because we have too much going on to monitor things. Nope, that’s just as bad as a “the dog ate my homework” excuse given in school.
    Monica recently posted..Where Were You Wednesday: Week 32

  4. 46

    To quote an earlier comment (I’d reply directly but I’m on my phone), copyright issues are not “unnecessary drama.” They are a valid legal issue. Laws are written about them. Companies go to court over them. This issue is a professional one, with real consequences. This isn’t petty, gossipy stuff.
    Amy B. recently posted..Epic Fail

    • 47

      Full disclosure (in case anyone commenting on this post doesn’t already know), I am friends with the bloggers in question. I have worked with the bloggers in question. I have had drinks with the bloggers in question. I’ve also worked/had drinks/hung out with a number of the bloggers commenting on this post.

      That said, if I had known about the Babble post, or if I had seen any of you doing something unethical that had the potential to be a blemish on the business of blogging, I would have handled it by personally, privately asking you, “WTF?”

      Copyright issues ARE a valid legal issue. Plagiarism IS a fire-able offense. The post in question DOES constitute plagiarism.

      I agree 100% with all of that.

      What I don’t agree with is the idea that it benefits the profession of blogging to publicly out bloggers behaving unprofessionally.

      If someone at my day job does something reckless, irresponsible, unethical that has the potential to make my company look bad, I don’t write a blog post telling everyone about how bad they’re making the company look. I pull them aside and say, “Hey, jackass…”
      Audrey Binkowski recently posted..Roar

      • 48

        Before writing this post I did communicate with the author and because I believe her response is damning to her character, I won’t post it here. Unfortunately, me giving her the opportunity to rectify the situation did not translate into her doing so.

  5. 49

    That response is so not satisfactory! It shouldn’t have been edited! It should have been replaced with an apology and a link to the YouTube video!! All with the same URL so that people being redirected would get the TRUE content.
    That’s really upsetting, not just that the plagiarism happened, but that Babble didn’t stand up for the value of original content. Bah.
    Jessica R. recently posted..5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know Your iPad Could Do

  6. 51

    Smuggling Zima….lol … Do they even make that anymore??

    On a serious note though– GREAT post. 100% right. The online space in general tends to be so casual, that I think people who want to be professional sometimes forget to act (or how to act?) professional.

    I hadn’t heard about the Babble thing until this post, but the WSJ thing was just SO unfortunate – but sadly not surprising as we know this is the story that traditional media LOVE to tell about new media. … and the Disney thing? BLOWS . MY. MIND.
    I wasn’t offended by the picture at all, personally. And after questioning “Why this was such a big deal” I thought maybe if the women’s faces in the pic were more “scared” as they are in the actual movie poster- it may not have been so “controversial”?… But still…. To take down someone’s professional reputation so publicly? Just horrible.

    How can we expect brands to respect and value us when we are not respecting each other (or the PR reps)?
    Corine recently posted..{Mother’s Day Uncomplicated} What A Mom Wants….

  7. 52

    So first my disclosure, I write for Babble. My other disclosure is that I am friends with and or familiar with almost everyone commenting on this post.

    Taking someone else’s content and using it as your own is NOT ok. It is never ok.

    There are so many blurred lined happening online right now that I wish we could take a moment and somehow agree on a universal truths of online writing. If someone else’s work has inspired you to write something that is awesome! I am all for an homage with a proper link back to where you got the idea from.
    Dresden recently posted..Hey Mama

  8. 53

    Hi everyone, thank you so much for first, bringing this matter to our attention, and second, for keeping the conversation alive. We take plagiarism very seriously, but we also take our relationships with our bloggers just as seriously. It is our duty to take the time to investigate matters like this rather than act too quickly. We have tried to work with the blogger on mending the mistakes, which we truly believe were not malicious on her part. However, we feel at this point the best course of action is to remove the post; we’re exploring further courses of action, which include, of course, reminding our community of our editorial policies. Please understand just how much we care about your opinion and the community at large.

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